(Florida Today) As a teenager and later, as a wife and mom, Mary Greene never considered trying marijuana for any purpose.
That was before she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 10 years ago. Now 57 and a grandmother, she lives in constant pain but doesn't want to be heavily medicated, she said.
Pat Suit, who's in her 70s and a former cigarette smoker, recalls telling her children she knew what was inside what she was inhaling but that they didn't know what was inside a joint.
All these years later, and after "more education," she and her husband "are both in favor of medical marijuana and will be voting for it," Suit said. "I don't believe anyone should suffer when there is help at hand."
The women are among the Space Coast's boomer-and-older residents who say they will vote yes this November on the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative. Widely known as Amendment 2, it would legalize the medical use of marijuana in the Sunshine State. To be added to the state constitution, the amendment needs to be approved by 60 percent of voters.
Greene and Suit have company in the graying group who say they'll vote yes. For some, it's because they used marijuana recreationally as young people and saw no ill effects as they've aged. Others support any kind of legal relief for themselves or a loved one with a terminal illness or in serious, long-term pain.
A Quinnipiac University poll this spring charted support in those older than 65 at a whopping 84 percent and 88 percent among all voters. While support of recreational usage drops dramatically in that older age group, in that same poll, among voters 50 to 64 years old, 62 percent admitted smoking pot, more than any other demographic.
Melbourne Beach native Joan Crutcher, 60, remembers being told as a teen that marijuana was a "horrid gateway drug" and that using it would lead her to heroin.
It didn't, said Crutcher, a graphic designer who's now a grandmother. And now, she's adamant that "for palliative effects and health benefits that cover a long list of ailments, medical marijuana at the very least needs to be legalized in Florida."
"What we're hearing from older voters is not a lot different from the electorate as a whole," said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United For Care, the initiative that landed the issue on the ballot. United For Care is funded heavily by Orlando attorney John Morgan, who supports Charlie Crist, the likely Democrat gubernatorial candidate. Crist is employed by Morgan's law firm.
"For the most part, it's not a controversial topic. ... If their doctor recommends a particular treatment plan, whether it's a medication regimen, a new diet, exercise, yoga or medical marijuana," Pollara said, "they should be able to follow their doctor's orders without being treated like a criminal."
But those against legalizing medical marijuana are equally firm in their stance.
The Florida Sheriffs Association, including Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey, and the Florida Medical Association oppose Amendment 2, as do many Republican leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott.
John Anderson, 87, former chairman of the Brevard GOP, is a retired nurse anesthetist.
"I can say that from my experience and my background in health care, whenever you mix politics and health care, it's a disaster," said Anderson, a Cocoa Beach resident.
"The people who are talking have no idea about the pharmacology or the pharmaceutical-therapeutic dynamics of any drug, whether it's aspirin or some fancy beta blocker. They're just talking based on what they heard somebody say. ... There are many people who think marijuana relieves pain. Marijuana is not an analgesic. You get more pain relief from an aspirin than marijuana, if you're talking about it in that sense."
Greene worked for years as a technician at a dialysis center but had to quit because she could no longer lift patients, she said.
"My insurance right now doesn't pay for the medicine that's best for me to use," she said. "So I'm on a very old-style regimen and live in constant pain. I tell my husband, it's just a matter of degree. Some days I can function and other days, I don't. I stay in bed."
She wants relief but worries about what she's putting into her body, particularly some of the newer medications.
When the rheumatoid arthritis struck, the first medication she injected herself with twice a week made her so nauseated, she "couldn't do a thing."
"You don't know what the long-term effects are, so you don't know what it's doing to the inside of your body," she said.
"But that's OK, because it's coming from a pharmaceutical company? No."
Tripp Spring, 63, of Melbourne Beach is vice president of the nonprofit Florida Cannabis Action Network, which recently joined the Cocoa Beach Chamber of Commerce.
One of FCAN's concerns, he said, is possible confusion over "Charlotte's Web," a low-potency strain of marijuana said to reduce seizures in children with epilepsy. Scott recently signed a bill legalizing use of that strain but still opposes the amendment legalizing medical marijuana.
"We were at the forefront in getting that done," Spring said. "We wanted to help people right away. But now, one of our fears is that people will think, 'OK, it's done,' and won't vote. It's not done."
The Brevard County Medical Society recently unanimously passed a resolution opposing Amendment 2, said Dr. Stephanie Haridopolos, BCMS president and a voice in the Sheriffs Association's "Don't Let Florida Go to Pot" initiative.
"I would never prescribe pot to one of my patients, nor have I ever heard one of my colleagues say they would prescribe it," Haridopolos said. "Besides, there is an FDA-approved medication called Marinol that can help cancer and AIDS patients with their appetite and nausea, and there are other meds that can be used for chronic pain."
Such input doesn't change the mind of 65-year-old Angie Wilt of Canaveral Groves, a former United Space Alliance employee.
In 2009, her husband, Stan, now 80, had a massive stroke that affected his right side and, she said, left his cognitive function "mostly gone."
There is "absolutely no reason" marijuana should be withheld from those who, as determined by medical professionals, would benefit from its use, Wilt said.
At times, her husband asks what his medicine is for, Wilt said.
"Other times he will say, 'Can I have something for pain? My shoulder hurts, my back hurts,' etc.," she said. "It would be so nice to have the option of giving him medical marijuana on an as-needed basis, instead of the narcotic pain meds he takes."
Haridopolos, though, thinks when people hear medical marijuana can help people with "debilitating diseases," they are "swayed into saying they support the amendment."
"However, when people come to understand the loopholes and the clause in the amendment that states pot can be obtained for 'other conditions,' which could mean back pain, problems sleeping or trouble eating, support drops dramatically," she said.
But Mary Greene has done her homework, she said. She's read the amendment closely and made her decision.
Speaking out about her stance has gotten Greene raked over the coals at a couple of meetings, even by people with whom she usually agrees. She is not deterred.
"I think that if it's an important issue, you should take a stand one way or another," Greene said.
"And you should be willing to stand behind it so long as you educate yourself, so that you can give an informed response — not just 'because.' "
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